“We need to wake up,” said Marian Wright Edelman, the founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF), to a room of nearly 2,000 people this morning at the 23rd annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Breakfast in Minneapolis.
“We need to recognize that we have to invest now, and invest with urgency and with persistence, so we can give every child a chance to be able to function, work and contribute in this very complex, changing world and economy,” Edelman said.
She was a passionate fit for the theme of this year’s breakfast – “Education – The Fierce Urgency of Now.”
Edelman referenced one of Dr. King’s most memorable speeches, at Spelman College (where she graduated), when he closed his remarks by reading from Langston Hughes’ poem “Mother to Son”: “If you can’t fly, run; if you can’t run, walk; if you can’t walk, crawl; but by all means keep moving.”
Edelman said, “This is a time for this country to move forward. We can’t continue to move backward … the American dream is for our children to do better than we did and it is our obligation to ensure that happens … We need to build a movement that Dr. King would be proud of.”
She closed with a call to action, asking attendees and those watching on television to serve children, to strive for a nation and world “where every child is safe, every child is educated, every child is hopeful and every child is loved and feels welcomed.”
Edelman began her career in the mid-1960s, and was the first African-American woman admitted to the Mississippi Bar. In 1968, she moved to Washington, D.C., as counsel for the Poor People’s Campaign that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. began organizing before his death.
Under her leadership, CDF has become one of America’s strongest voices for children and families.
After her remarks at the breakfast, Edelman shared more of her thoughts at a press conference, where she spoke about the commitment to education that she says is needed in schools across the U.S.
This morning’s breakfast was broadcast live on Twin Cities Public Television (If you’re in Minnesota, visit TPT.org for a rebroadcast schedule).
The 2013 breakfast also featured musical performances from Ann Nesby and Greater Praise, and the presentation of the Local Legend community service awards.
The annual breakfast is a partnership between the General Mills Foundation and UNCF (United Negro College Fund) and is an opportunity to celebrate the life and legacy of the man and movement that changed civil rights laws for all Americans.
What started with 800 guests in 1991 now has grown so large that it reaches capacity seating at the Minneapolis Convention Center as one of the largest Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday breakfasts in the nation.